Microsoft CEO survivor: Maritz is off the island

Who will make it off the CEO-candidate island and become Microsoft's next CEO? Let the guesses continue.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

I've stayed away from speculating on who might or should become Microsoft's next CEO for a variety of reasons.


On the "should" front, I haven't been part of the speculation pool because... what do I know? I posted a list of those I expected to be on the internal-candidate list back when Ballmer announced he'd be relinquishing the CEO crown. But I have no real idea what it takes to manage a company of any size beyond one (my own freelance business, of which I am the sole employee).

On the "might" front, like anyone watching Microsoft, I've asked plenty of insiders, outsiders, former employees and others for their opinions. (And everyone has one. Or more than one.)

One thing I've noticed, unsurprisingly, is everyone has a vested interest in how s/he answers. Many of those happily working for Microsoft Cloud & Enterprise chief Satya Nadella want their boss to be the next CEO. Ditto with those working for Tony Bates. Those in the devices/mobile space tend to favor Steven Elop, another rumored, quasi-internal candidate.

Many on Wall Street are agitating for an outsider, none more than Rick Sherlund of Nomura Securities. Sherlund, in case you missed it yesterday, basically said what many of us long-time reporters know to be true: A non-denial is not really a denial. And Ford execs have been issuing almost the identially worded non-denial denials for the past three months as to whether supposed front-runner Ford CEO Alan Mulally is going to go to Microsoft.

One person who Sherlund and some others were hoping might make a triumphant return to Microsoft has officially taken himself out of the running: Former Microsoft Platform Chief and Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz. (AllThingsD reported a month or so ago that Maritz had been contacted for consideration.)

A December 6 PC Pro story quotes Maritz saying he "took (his) hat of that ring very early on" as he is 58, and "not up for that journey."

(For comparison's sake, Ballmer is 57. Mulally is 68.)

Also: In case anyone was wondering about Microsoft's new unified OS chief Terry Myerson's chances of becoming the next Microsoft CEO, he also officially stated this week he's not on the CEO-candidate island.

As Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said himself at the recent Microsoft shareholder meeting, whoever becomes the next CEO has a tough job to fill. Gates told meeting attendees on November 19:

"(I)t’s a complex role to fill, a lot of different skills, experience, and capabilities that we need. It’s a complex global business that the new CEO will have to lead. And they will have to drive across fundamental transitions to create new growth and to attract and manage top talent. "We will have to build on our strengths while addressing areas that we have got weaknesses or challenges. The person has to have a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organization and have an ability to work with our top technical talent to seize the opportunities."

When Gates was Microsoft's CEO, it was a different time and place. He was Microsoft's founder and chief tech visionary.

These days, some would argue Microsoft needs a manager more than a visionary -- or possibly a visionary as a sidekick (in a role like the currently vacated Chief Software Architect one). 

Whoever the next CEO is, that person needs to know how to talk to Wall Street, customers, partners, employees, government bodies, shareholders, the press and plenty of other constituencies. Charisma, schmooze, speed and smarts need to be part of the make-up of the individual who ends up steering the 130,000-or-so (post-Nokia acquisition) company in its next phase. 

I don't know who that person is. I don't feel confident enough in the opinions of any of my contacts to hazard a guess. But I do know that the sooner the search committee can name him/her, the better. Meetings with potential candidates started three or four years ago, according to Ballmer, and the search committee was supposedly well on its way toward narrowing down its list back in August.

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